Madame Vito finally makes her appearance, and the room quickly goes quiet. She doesn’t say a thing, but then again, she doesn’t need to.

 Her stern presence and the clicking of her signature moccasins are all that’s necessary to make all the chatter fade away into dead silence. The room gets so quiet you could probably hear a snowflake land.

Vito’s graying locks are pulled back into a tight bun as usual, and she’s covered up in a dark cardigan and an equally dark, conservative pencil skirt with leggings underneath like always. Her wardrobe knows no distinction between the seasons. She dresses the same all year round.

I’m not a huge fan of hers, mostly because of her rigidness and cold demeanor, and while I can’t imagine living my life by a lot of her rules, I can respect her approach to education—as strict and conservative as it is.

Trixie barely tolerates “the uptight hag”, as she calls her, but does her best not to butt heads with any professors, especially not Vito. Trixie may be headstrong and outspoken, but she’s not stupid. She wouldn’t be careless about getting on this woman’s bad side, not when her grades and future as a classical vocalist are at stake.

We don’t waste any time in taking our positions, arranging ourselves in semi-circles according to our various segments and vocal groups. Vito faces our entourage, and with her back to the wall of mirrors holds her hand up in a balled fist signaling that we’re starting. She does three silent counts with her fingers, motioning for us to begin.

As lead, I start out humming the melody of the song’s intro by myself, and go on to sing the first stanza of the first verse as well. Kayla Daniels and Julianne both join me in the second stanza as the two other first-part vocalists. Trixie and the second-parters sing their way in next, and then eventually the bass-vocalists merge with everyone as we all round up the first verse. All our voices fuse together perfectly, and from Vito’s acknowledging expression, we’re doing a good job. She actually seems impressed.

And, boy, is it hard to impress this woman.

We continue our harmonized a cappella in synchrony and with precision, and I can hear the waves of our enthusiastic voices bouncing off the walls and echoing loudly in the spacious room.

 I try to keep focused, even though the thought of my stomach hitching again ails me. The bridge comes up again, and I brace myself for it, instinctively balling my hands into tight fists until I feel my knuckles go sore.

Please don’t act up again. Please don’t act up again. Please don’t act up again…

I keep repeating the silent prayer, imploring my stomach to behave itself as I hold a high note for several seconds. Before I know it, the bridge is over and the song is soon coming to an end. And there are no signs of a hitch in sight.

Phew.

Thank goodness.

The vocal groups start to exit in the reverse order they came in. The heavy undertones and background rumbles dissipate as the bass vocalists fade out first. The intermediates follow right after, and then Kayla and Julianne’s voices softly linger until they eventually disappear, leaving me to finish the last verse and hum the ending melody by myself once again.

Out of the blue, my body jerks almost violently, as if I just had a hippo-sized hiccup.

It’s back again.

Fuck.

I place my hand on my chest against the rising pain, even though the action provides no relief to the discomfort. I try to open my mouth to finish the song, but only a hoarse utterance escapes my lips.

Vito gives me a look that I think is a mix of surprise, concern, and annoyance. But mostly annoyance.

“Is there a problem, Miss Gallo?” she asks in her cold, rigid tone.

I hear patronizing giggles coming from the other side of my semi-circle, and they only stop when Vito shoots their owners a glare before she returns to face me.

I clear my throat. “N-no, ma’am.”

She holds her gaze on me for a few seconds before returning her attention to everyone else.

“From the top, then,” she says. “Hopefully this time Miss Gallo can pay attention long enough to actually finish the song.”

I can just feel the sheer vindication oozing from those around me, as if Vito telling me off just made their whole year. A glance in the mirrors ahead confirms this. The satisfaction is written all over most of their grinning faces. I guess I never really realized just how much of a public enemy I am here.

From the way they’re looking at me, you would think I was getting my just desserts for sodomizing all their cats.

Jeez.

We go through six more rounds, and each time, I manage to fuck up at some point. At the end of the seventh round, Vito gives me an unfaltering harsh look, and I can’t blame her. The lead vocalist just missed three keynotes.

Again.

Add that to the other mishaps and missing the entire ending the first go around, and you have one seriously pissed Gertrude Vito.

Time continues to go by, and I realize I haven’t had a single successful round today, and at the rate things are going, there’s no redeeming this practice session for me at this point.

This is a total fail. I can’t believe I’m struggling this much.

I’m extremely unfocused, and any shred of confidence that may have been there before has completely left my body. Right now, I have no semblance of confidence whatsoever. I totally sucked ass at the one thing I know I’m good at. I seriously want to hide under a needle.

Vito seems to note my highly unnerved demeanor and ends practice about half an hour earlier than usual. I’m incredibly glad that she does, even though I know she’s not doing it because she feels bad for me. She just has a low tolerance for “incompetence”, and gets frustrated with errors easily.

She’s definitely not the most patient person in the world. Either way, I’m grateful for the decision.

Anything to spare me any more utter humiliation today.

As everyone streams out of the studio, silently mocking and jeering at me, I can’t help but feel so alone and isolated—a feeling I’ve continuously had for practically all of my adult life. I know Trixie will always be a supportive friend, but even she has a ‘Seriously-what-the-fuck-just-happened?’ look plastered all over her face as she glances my way.

I sigh in exhaustion and frustration as I head for the door, feeling defeated and deflated.

“Stick around for a minute, Miss Gallo,” Vito calls out to me.

It’s not a request. It’s one hell of an order if I ever heard one. I wince internally as I can only imagine what’s coming next.

The last thing I want to do right now is talk to anyone, let alone her. Trixie gestures toward the door, signaling that she’ll be waiting for me outside as I have my after-class ‘chat’ with Vito. I brace myself as I walk over to meet the older woman.

In five brutal minutes, she tells me off in her uber-strict, condescending tone, asking me if I realize how important this performance is and how close we are to it.

She continues to chastise me without even bothering to hear me out, writing anything I have to say off as either “excuses” or “slacking off because I’m relying solely on my talent”.

I feel myself quickly losing patience, and it’s taking every bone in my body not to cuss this hag out right here and now.

Listening to her make all these inaccurate and judgmental assessments about me is really pissing me off, but I refrain from saying anything.

I think I have a renewed sense of hatred for this woman, and I can already hear Trixie spewing her I-told-you-Vito’s-an-uptight-bitch speech.

Vito finally ends her judgmental rant, and at her suggestion—well, more like her demand—I decide to head to the campus clinic for a check-up, just to make sure there aren’t any underlying medical issues at hand.

***

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THIS MAKES ME FEEL...
  • Fascinated
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  • Bored
  • Afraid

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